The Kosovo Knot Is Cut
Author: Sonja Biserko
Uploaded: Thursday, 23 May, 2013
Authoritative comment by Serbia's most influential political analyst following the April 2013 agreement initialled by Belgrade and Prishtina under EU sponsorship
At long last Belgrade and Prishtina’s agreement has ended the process of ex-Yugoslavia’s dissolution. It has killed the delusion that the international constellation would change to Serbia’s advantage, making it possible for it to enforce Kosovo’s partition. Belgrade has banked on the partition scenario all along. Having to cope with strong resistance from the conservative bloc and the grey zone of politics, Premier Ivica Dacic was skilfully meandering through Brussels’ demands on the one hand, and domestic criticism on the other. Over nine negotiating rounds the ruling coalition has travelled the road from denial to acceptance, throughout the process blaming its predecessor for having committed the country to this course. The present-day ruling coalition’s signature under the agreement makes it a fair deal: in the past two decades, while in opposition, it had strongly opposed any attempt at cutting the Kosovo knot.
The Progressists have vacillated throughout the negotiations, especially their leader, President Tomislav Nikolic. To prevent them from blaming him for ‘treason,’ Premier Dacic had to play shrewdly: he involved both Aleksandar Vucic and Nikolic in the negotiations – true, with support from Brussels and Washington. The two men ducked out at first, but then accepted the invitation and began speaking in favour of the agreement.
It could be said that this is a historical agreement - for Serbia and Kosovo alike. For the first time ever, Belgrade has negotiated with Albanians on an equal footing. The agreement has opened up European vistas to both countries. Its significance for the entire region is indisputable: it marks a U-turn in regressive trends, especially in the Western Balkans. The agreement indicates that Serbia has come to its senses and for the first time taken a rational attitude: it had found itself in the economic impasse [...] Resistance, misinterpretation and sabotage are to be expected, especially from the moment that Serbia obtains a date for accession negotiations with the EU.
Ivica Dacic proved to be a quick-witted politician on the domestic scene. In an article he penned for the weekly NIN, he said, ‘For almost ten years Kosovo has been a taboo and no one has dared to tell the truth about it officially. Fairy tales have been told instead…lies were told that Kosovo belonged to us and that lie was even incorporated in the Constitution. Today this Constitution is of no avail. The President of Serbia cannot travel to Kosovo. Neither can the Premier. Nor ministries. Nor the police. Nor the army.’ A Serb Patriarch left Kosovo back in 1690, he retorted to Patriarch Irinej’s appeal against ‘betrayal and surrender’ of Kosovo. He made no bones about many other things as well. On the eve of the last round of the negotiations he paid a visit to Moscow. What happened there is still unclear. Be it as it may, Belgrade had little choice.
It was obvious from the day it was signed that the agreement would be interpreted differently – within the ruling coalition, within the opposition and in Kosovo as well. Belgrade and Prishtina will each interpret it in a manner most pleasing to their citizens. Both parties are aware that they had no choice. And yet, only its implementation will demonstrate whether or not it has been backed by genuine political will, Belgrade’s in the first place. Belgrade will be treating the implementation itself as another negotiating round. It will not stop trying to secure the status of Republika Srpska for the north of Kosovo.
Vucic and Nikolic have to cope with extremists of their own now. They have done nothing to prevent their activities, for as long as such activities - especially in Vojvodina - have been in the service of their own policy. The two politicians have the most radical electorates and will have to work hard to pacify them.
The conservative elite, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, some media (e.g. Pecat) and some intellectuals will be the hardest nuts to crack. For them, the agreement equals defeat. Citizens – at least judging by their blogs and comments – have received the news far more rationally.
Vojislav Kostunica of DSS has accused the government of ‘betrayal of state and national interests.’ Together with Seselj’s Serb Radical Party, he has turned to street protests. Similar are the reactions of all extreme right-wing groups such as Dveri, Nasi, Obraz (though banned) and the like. The time to come will witness a variety of protests and manifestations, especially in northern Kosovo.
For Djordje Vukadinovic of New Serbian Political Thought, the agreement is a typical capitulation to pressure from Brussels, Washington and Prishtina. It will go down in history as one of the saddest and most shameful days, he writes, as it equals recognition not only of Kosovo, but also of the fact that Serbs in northern Kosovo belong to Thaci’s state. The magazine he edits has launched a 20-point initiative calling, among other things, for a referendum on Serbia’s membership of EU and NATO, criminalization of secessionist propaganda, a policy that would be oriented more to the east, especially to the markets of the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, etc.
As it turned out, the public in Serbia, preoccupied with making ends meet, felt the loss of Kosovo but knew that it had been a lost cause for long. Citizens are more concerned with developments in Serbia proper when the dust settles. Obviously, the Kosovo story can mobilize people no more.
The international community has worked hard to make the two parties reach the agreement. Now it is the main guarantor of its implementation, especially with respect to its security aspects. No wonder the extent to which the agreement is implemented will precondition the date for accession negotiations Serbia expects to obtain in June. The international community is aware that problems will still arise when it comes to actual implementation.
The international community fully backed the actual government in reaching an agreement with Prishtina. But, as usual, it is reserved about domestic issues. Vucic played on its reservations. On the wave of international support, he initially sharpened the situation in Serbia and in Vojvodina. Having secured public support with his so-called campaign against corruption, he is tailoring electoral outcomes at the local level to the outcome of the parliamentary election, obviously intent on concentrating authority in his own hands inasmuch as possible.
The culture of violence – the hallmark of the Radicals and now of the Progressists as well – is in full swing in all segments of society. Fear has ruled people’s lives once again. Criticism of the incumbent government is almost non-existent. Except for being forced to negotiate, it made no progress in other domains in 2012. However, it was successful in destroying the Democratic Party, which is in fact to blame for its own present position.
Twelve years after the democratic change, Serbia is again faced with an authoritarian regime that sticks at nothing to get what it wants. And with a leader who stops at nothing to satisfy his appetites. In other words, Serbia is faced with homogenization and terror of one party that is far from being pro-European, despite the fact that it has put its signature under an agreement which opens up European vistas.
Whether or not Aleksandar Vucic will become the hallmark of another phase of authoritarianism and fear depends on society as a whole. And it depends on society’s preparedness to grab the chance this agreement has opened up. This applies to Vojvodina as well.
This editorial appeared in Helsinki Charter No. 173-174, March - April 2013